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Tackling virtual UC and VDI for the distributed enterprise

The rapid rise of both virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and unified communications (UC) raises the important question of how to support real-time applications over an architecture where

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all of the application processing occurs in the data center.

Enterprises have rapidly adopted virtualization to reduce both infrastructure costs and improve agility. Running applications on virtual, rather than dedicated, servers typically requires less hardware, less power and fewer operational management resources. It's no surprise that, on average, companies have virtualized more than half of their applications, with plans to virtualize 78% of them over the next year, according to Nemertes Research data.

In terms of UC and collaboration, UC architects are rapidly embracing server virtualization as well, with 42% deploying virtual UC applications, and another 20% evaluating future virtual deployments.

More on Virtual UC

Why virtual UC is taking off

Is virtualized video conferencing viable?

Get your network ready for VDI

But virtual UC isn't just happening in the data center. The rise of the distributed enterprise, which includes all branch offices no matter how small, means that IT leaders must deliver a consistent set of capabilities to all workers, regardless of location and, increasingly, regardless of device. They must support new ways of work, such as teleworking and hoteling. As a result, 52% of companies have rolled out VDI to at least some portion of their workers. Depending on the VDI implementation approach, it either reduces or completely eliminates the need for local applications, giving companies the ability to extend the life of older hardware, support bring your own device (BYOD) ownership models, enable flexible, shared workspace, or even extend corporate applications to mobile devices.

Virtualization and UC reliance rise in tandem

At the same time virtualization deployments are expanding, so is reliance on UC applications, like softphones and desktop video running on PCs, laptops and mobile devices. An estimated 64% of companies have deployed some types of UC applications already, with another 23% evaluating or planning deployments in the next year.

The rapid rise of both VDI and UC raises the important question of how to support real-time applications over an architecture where all of the application processing occurs in the data center. Carrying raw voice and video from a virtual desktop to the data center isn't practical, due to delay, bandwidth requirements and the processing power required to encapsulate raw voice and video into IP.

As a result, organizations that have deployed either VDI or UC without considering the other are running into problems. Several companies have had to delay either VDI or UC because they failed to coordinate both UC and VDI plans before deployment. In one extreme case, a company had to revert back to its traditional desktops because its chosen VDI solution couldn't support its UC initiative.

Luckily, vendors in both the VDI and UC space are bringing solutions to market that enable localized encapsulation of voice and video in VDI environments. These approaches typically either use a shim application (e.g., Citrix HDX) running locally to capture voice/video and encapsulate it before sending it on to the data center, or dedicated hardware (e.g., Cisco's VXI) to run voice/video on a desktop device, like a VDI appliance, IP phone or video-enabled phone. Either one of these solutions solves the challenges related to running UC over VDI, but requires careful coordination between desktop and UC planning teams.

To fully embrace the benefits of virtual UC, enterprises must realize that the issues are largely organizational, not technical. By integrating planning for both technologies, the benefits of virtualization can be realized while still supporting the goals of a UC initiative."

For more information on UC for the distributed enterprise, check out how to integrate cloud-based UC applications in the branch office.

This was first published in May 2012

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